How to Avoid Chemicals Linked to Breast Cancer

How to Avoid Chemicals Linked to Breast Cancer

January 3, 2023

By Healthy Child Staff

Breast cancer is all around us. We all know women who have fought and won their battle with the disease, and others who succumbed. Mothers, sisters, grandmothers, maids-of-honor, college roomates, neighbors. Pink ribbons remind us there’s an epidemic, that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer, and nearly 40,000 women die from the disease every year (though, mercifully, the death rate is decreasing).

The evidence keeps getting stronger that common chemicals play a role in breast cancer incidence. Hormone-disrupting chemicals pose a particular concern, since breast cancer is sensitive to hormonal changes. A new study found women who work in the plastics and food canning industries had a fivefold increase in premenopausal breast cancer. The conclusion? Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, including phthalates, bisphenol A, and flame retardants, is a decisive factor in breast cancer incidence.

Because the government and industry refuse to take steps to protect people from the carcinogenic effects of toxic chemicals, it’s up to you as a consumer to make choices that reduce exposures to cancer-causing chemicals. Knowing more about those chemicals while taking steps to avoid exposure is a key cancer prevention strategy that everyone can embrace.

Bisphenol A, phthalates, and parabens are three very common chemicals linked to breast cancer. Exposure to all three can be reduced and avoided by reading labels, and making informed choices when buying food, household cleaners, and personal care products.

1. Bisphenol A (BPA)

This hormone-disrupting chemical is found everywhere. Lab studies have shown that BPA is linked to early puberty, a risk factor for later-life breast cancer; can make healthy breast cells grow and survive like cancer cells; and can make breast cancer drugs less effective.

How to avoid:

  • Don’t buy canned foods or look for cans that are BPA-free.
  • Just say no to cash register receipts, some of which use BPA in the printing process.
  • Choose glass or steel instead of plastic for your food storage needs.

2. Phthalates

Phthalates are toxic chemicals used to make plastics soft and are added to the chemical composition of synthetic fragrance found in air fresheners, cosmetics, detergents, cleaning products and more.

How to avoid:

  • Look for products labeled “phthalate free.”
  • Stop buying vinyl products, which are softened with phthalates. Choose a cloth or nylon shower curtain instead of one made with PVC.
  • Leave synthetic scented products like some household cleaners, candles and air fresheners on the store shelf; keep those products out of your home.

3. Parabens

Parabens are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics, found in lotions, creams, and deodorants. Absorbed by the skin, parabens have been linked to breast cancer incidence. One recent study found parabens in 99 percent of breast tissue samples; 60 percent of the samples contained at least five parabens.

How to avoid:

  • Only use personal care products labeled “paraben free.”
  • Read labels and avoid ingredients that end with “paraben” such as methylparaben.
  • Consult EWG’s Skin Deep Database to get more information about which personal care products contain parabens.

Of course, there are many more chemicals associated with breast cancer; some are avoidable, others are not. For example, it’s hard to avoid 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen that is not deliberately added to a product, but is produced by suds-generating chemicals. Some detergents, like Tide Free & Gentle, contain 1,4 dioxane, though you’ll never see it listed on a label or ingredient list. (To tell Tide to get 1,4 dioxane out of its detergent, please sign this petition!)

There are other actions you can take to prevent breast cancer, but eliminating your exposure to common carcinogenic chemicals is an easy first step.

Does the link between breast cancer and certain chemicals motivate you to avoid categories of products? What steps have you taken to reduce your exposure to those chemicals?